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What is Osteopathic Medicine?

Osteopathic medicine is a distinct branch of medicine in the United States. Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine (DOs) emphasize the interrelated unity of all systems in the body, each working with the other to heal in times of illness.

Practicing Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic physicians are licensed to practice the full scope of medicine in every state. They prescribe medications, perform surgery, and use osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM) as a tool to diagnose and treat patients. Osteopathic physicians use the most current scientific knowledge to promote health and prevention, and diagnose and treat patients with disease.


Origins of Osteopathic Medicine

The philosophy of osteopathic medicine originated from the teachings of Virginian physician and surgeon Andrew Taylor Still over 100 years ago. It is based on the beliefs that, given the optimum conditions:

  • the human body has the amazing ability to heal
  • the structure of the human body is directly related to the function, and
  • the health of the individual is related to the body, mind, and spirit

Core Values of Osteopathic Medicine: The DO Difference

As medicine has changed and improved over the years, so has the practice of osteopathic medicine. Yet, many of the original values of osteopathic medicine are found within the VCOM curriculum. This includes our focus on the patient rather than the disease, and the importance of human touch in diagnosing and treating the patient.

Osteopathic physicians (DOs) and allopathic physicians (MDs) are the only two types of physicians who are trained and licensed to practice the full scope of medicine, including prescribing medications and performing surgery.

While osteopathic physicians enter every specialty, the mission and curriculum at VCOM prepares the student to be a primary care physician first. This training provides a strong foundation for any specialty a student may choose. 


Osteopathic Medicine and Education Today

  • 149,000 physicians are currently practicing osteopathic medicine in the United States (2023).
  • 60% of all osteopathic physicians enter primary care.
  • Osteopathic physicians currently care for more than 35 million Americans.
  • Physicians are more likely to practice osteopathic medicine in small communities and rural areas.
  • 41 osteopathic medical schools and 65 branch campuses that enroll more than 35,000 students are located within the United States (2023).
  • The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) recognizes only those schools that provide four years of training leading to the full scope of the practice of medicine. Each school is accredited by the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) of the AOA. COCA is the only accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for pre-doctoral osteopathic medical education.
  • In addition to the COCA accreditation, VCOM and other Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine must receive approval from their state boards for education.

The Healing Power of Osteopathic Medicine in Practice

Osteopathic training goes far beyond sharpening the healer's mind and heart, because it involves instruction in a compassionate and knowledgeable touch. In addition to the core curriculum found in all medical schools, VCOM students benefit from hundreds of additional hours in the practice unique to the osteopathic profession – osteopathic manipulative medicine (OMM).


What is Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine (OMM)?

OMM training gives VCOM students the education and practical experience required to evaluate and treat patients using safe and effective osteopathic manipulative techniques for a variety of medical conditions. These include but are not limited to: low back pain, joint pain, neck pain, headaches, post-surgical ileus, gastrointestinal conditions, and respiratory problems. The VCOM curriculum integrates the osteopathic musculoskeletal exam within the physical diagnosis course. This assures that every student possesses the skills to fully evaluate each patient with visual, auditory, and palpatory skill.

VCOM has an 8:1 student-to-professor ratio of board certified faculty physicians who are trained and experienced in osteopathic manipulation with a wide variety of specialties, including: family medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, internal medicine, sports medicine and neuromusculoskeletal medicine.

Senior VCOM students in their clinical years of training (years 3 and 4) also return to assist in training their junior classmates. They also refine their skills through monthly conferences/labs detailing advanced concepts and techniques, and through their clinical training on rotations.

At the conclusion of their second and third years of training, students undergo comprehensive and rigorous evaluation in an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). This evaluates not only their clinical training in the office assessment and management of patients, but also their interpretation of laboratory results, medical tests (such as X-rays, MRIs and EKGs), and practical skills such as performing physical examinations, suturing, casting/splinting, and performing OMM. 


VCOM Students Highly Regarded in Osteopathic Education

Such training has resulted in VCOM students not only being willing to, but capable of delivering high-quality OMM to their patients. VCOM students lead the way in providing OMM treatments at national conferences, and are sought for demonstrations by students and physicians at other osteopathic colleges. Healthcare professionals across the country recognize the brilliant orange, maroon and blue of the VCOM badge on the white coat of our students as a symbol of excellence in osteopathic manipulative and clinical medicine. As evidence of this, VCOM students have won national awards from the Undergraduate American Association of Osteopathy (UAAO).